My love and eventual disappointment in diet sodas inspired this article. This information is intended to help other diet drink lovers to make an educated choice to drink or not to drink.
Where It Began
The history that I found on diet sodas was lengthy. As one might suspect, diet sodas began to emerge beginning around the mid-1960s. The introduction of the major brands of diet soda continued up until the 1980s with the introduction of at least one of the major brands that we find on the shelves today.
One of the reasons that I believe this history is relevant is that the artificial sweeteners used in the first diet sodas were later banned. Since that time, several warnings have also come out about the newer sweeteners used in today’s sodas. Little has changed in terms of the ingredients, but companies have increased variety in the area of reduced sugar and diet drinks. In today’s market, there are more than 30 types of diet sodas in just about any flavor that one might be craving at the time.
So, What’s That Food?
While I won’t address specific brands of soda, I will share what is generally true about the artificial sweeteners for most diet sodas. You, the reader, the drinker, the consumer, will be the one to decide what you will do with the information.
The following artificial sweeteners are those most likely to be used in diet sodas that we currently see on our convenience store and grocery store shelves.
Sweetener 1: Aspartame -This little baby was accidentally discovered in the 1960s and began to be frequently used in the 1980s as an alternative sweetener. Initially, seen to have health benefits to obese/overweight people, it was probably a welcomed sight to folks such as myself who struggle with a weight problem. Aspartame is one of the main ingredients in sweeteners such as Equal® and NutraSweet®. At first glance, research may indicate that these substances are completely safe and edible. In truth, there are many problems associated with aspartame.
According to The American Cancer Society, “Aspartame is made by joining together the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are found naturally in many foods.”So, you might be crinkling an eyebrow right now and asking the so what question. Here’s the answer:
While several websites discuss that this substance is safe for ingestion, there is little objection to the fact that we should limit the ingestion of Aspartame due to the substance becoming toxic. In other words, you and I could ingest too much and could develop chronic health problems or worse, death. According to one source, “Questions of cancer and neurological problems, such as dizziness or hallucinations, have swirled around aspartame for decades.”
Finally, Dr. Janet Hull, who has written extensively on side effects of aspartame, is not the only professional who has written about the substance as one that should be avoided. Dr. Hull says that Aspartame changes the balance of the blood and can mimic and be mistaken for “…textbook disorders and diseases….” Simply put, my research on the likely related health problems led me to consider that despite my love of my occasional orange diet soda, I should run from the soda aisle screaming, “Danger! Danger!”
Sweetener 2: Sucralose – This was once sugar, but became Sucralose after being chlorinated, a chemical process that produces a chlorocarbon which makes it possible for the reduced calorie sweetener to remain sweet while lacking the calories of sugar.
Here’s the catch. The first thing that one might notice when researching chlorocarbon is the word poison. I believe that I am officially astounded at the results of my research. I currently have a sugar/Splenda (Sucralose) mix in my cabinet to use for cooking and was initially under the impression that Sucralose was safer than Aspartame. Not the case.
This sweetener can also be toxic in large amounts and has been linked to a host of major health problems. Since I am partial to personal stories as they may reflect a real-life experience that you and I can connect with, I hope that you will take a moment to read a post from a blogger who had some pretty negative side-effects from the use of Splenda. I also came across an article by Dr. Mercola who wrote about a new study and the implications. A new and rather disturbing study found that this sweetener may cause a variety of ailments including but not limited to: headaches, dizziness, vision problems, allergies, and weight gain ( a sore spot for me).
I can’t resist. I must explain why it contributes to weight gain. Basically, a chemical reaction to the substance decreases the body’s ability to regulate hunger and increases cravings for sugars and carbohydrates. So, essentially our desire to decrease our sugar intake by drinking diet sodas is a detriment to our health by causing cravings and increased overall appetite.
While there are other sweeteners in question, the next one, Stevia is one that I will end on for now.
Sweetener 3: Stevia – This sweetener comes from a natural source; the Stevia plant. Pure extractions of Stevia are much sweeter than sugar but do not taste exactly like sugar. The substance, in its natural form, has been shown to be healthy and not a bad substitute for sugar. It is marketed as natural, but in most cases, this claim is false.
As most of our foods do, the sale of Stevia on our market shelves requires a few additions to make it last and to make it marketable. The additions are the primary problem with this sweetener which includes sugar alcohols, dextrose (glucose), and other not so natural flavors to make Stevia more sugar like. Another addition that I found interesting was a compound to help equalize amounts. In other words, because consumers might not see Stevia as equal to sugar, a filler is added so that one tablespoon of Stevia would be equal to one tablespoon of sugar. Naturally occurring Stevia is much sweeter, so it takes much less to sweeten drinks and other items. Unfortunately, many of these same additions are added to diet sodas. The not so natural flavors to reduce the liqourish taste of Stevia is one of those additions that may be problematic to our health.
Since this sweetener is relatively new as far as sweetening sodas, much more research will be needed before we know what health effects that it may have.
Let me end with a few concluding thoughts on the few sweeteners that I have discussed. Soda has no real nutritional value, and if you have ever been an avid soda drinker and have quit, you may have noticed the difficulty in cutting them out altogether. That is a discussion for another time, but please consider what you are buying and what you are really putting into your body. Considering the dangers from added low-calorie sweeteners can prevent short-term and long-term health effects and avoiding diet sodas may even save a buck or two.